PR Outreach: Learning from Chipotle’s Crisis

PR Outreach: Learning from Chipotle’s Crisis

In our recent report on the U.S. fast food industry, we look into top trends, key influencers, and viral conversations. At no time are conversations taking place in the news and on social more important than during a crisis, like the one Chipotle experienced this past year. Here’s what we learned about connecting your critical pitches with the right media contacts.
Omid Mirshafiei
28 August 2016

Introduce the Issue

A crisis isn’t the only high-stakes situation in which your pitch simply has to hit the mark. Are you launching a new product? Did you bring aboard a high-profile executive? If a journalist opens an email with a compelling subject, but the first line reads like an infomercial, how likely is it that she’ll keep reading? Know your audience and educate them on why you chose them for your outreach.

Educate, Don’t Sell

Educate journalists and let them do the selling to the public. Get them excited about what you have to share so they end up spreading the word for you. Got data to support your story? Follow up with the right contacts (read on to learn how analytics can fine-tune your follow up). Be sure to specify if any info is exclusive, and if so, what blackout dates you can offer. Give them some time to write the story and put it out there. A few days is usually fine. And always give them the best contact to reach. Identify the person at your organization who can best handle questions on methodologies, loop that person into the email, and welcome the journalist to reach out directly. Minimize the email tennis.

Know Your Journalist

Make the interaction personal by reading a recent piece of theirs, something related to your own pitch. Did they cover food-borne illness last month and you’re pitching them about new CDC regulations? Great, let them know you’ve read their work and aren’t just going through a rolodex to see who will reply back to you.

Use Keywords for Smarter Pitches

Don’t rely on beats! This is the outdated method of looking up writers; you want to be one step ahead of everyone. Beats are traditionally listed in the bio, but if they’re good at their job and always busy, updating this information is the last thing on their mind. Also, Kelly the journalist could have been assigned a “Finance” beat when she started, but quickly moved on, and the only coverage she’s written under this beat could be over a year old. If you know the journalist or the exact topic, use a keyword search.

Say you want to pitch to someone who referenced Chipotle last month in her article. Run a keyword search for “Chipotle” to discover which journalists are mentioning the brand. Set the date range to look within the past 30 days. See the journalists in the content stream below?

Use keyword searching in the Meltwater Influencers tool to find journalists who have referenced Chipotle.These three journalists have referenced Chipotle in the last 30 days.

Those are your new best friends. Click on Relevant Articles to see their works that reference your keyword. Start researching their work and build those relationships with your first email.

Know Your Subject Matter Experts

Annual events might be assigned to the same writer every year. So if you search for “annual restaurant trade show” and see the same group of writers, there’s a high chance they’ll cover the event again. These writers might be more in tune to the restaurant space than someone who wrote one relevant article in the past six months.

Hot Story Seeks Journo

Maybe you have a preference for a publication but don’t know the best person to reach. That’s what an editor’s job is: assigning a topic or story to the journalist. Load up your media database and pitch to the editor of the publication.

Meltwater Influencers database can sort contacts by roles, so you can pitch to editors in your media outreach effort.Influencers lets you search for editors—they’re the ones who assign stories!

And if you’re lucky enough to find the right journalist covering your subject, check her Twitter bio or a recent article for her preferred mode of contact. See how one woman reached out to Arianna Huffington and the lessons she learned in getting noticed.

Mail Servers: The Gatekeepers

Mail servers have gotten over-zealous in detecting spam. If your message looks like spam, it might not reach your journalist. Even using a free email provider, like Gmail, is more likely to flag the spam filter than a verified domain (read more under “Campaign Metadata” in MailChimp’s excellent article). And we all remember what spam emails look like: catchy subject lines and file attachments from unknown senders. You’re starting off as an unknown sender, so avoid looking like a spammer. Put your story in the message body. Don’t send it as a PDF attachment. And either offer to send supplementary information or, better yet, provide a link to it.

Pitch by Media Type

Are you pitching to TV or radio? You’ll want to look for assignment editors, producers, or news directors. What if you’re pitching to print media? Focus on and assignment editors, managing editors, editors-in-chiefs, and bureau chiefs. Your choice will also depend on the outlet’s size. For example, you might want to look for bureau chiefs for the Washington Post.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 5.50.37 AM.png

Improve Your Follow Up with Analytics

If you do send an email to multiple contacts, you can use an email analytics tool like the one recently introduced to our Influencers media database. This will show you who is reading your mail and who hasn’t yet opened it. Learn to troubleshoot your pitches with open-rate stats, and you won’t get discouraged the next time you see a chart like this:

Sharpen your media outreach follow up with analytics; know your bounce and open rates.Send mail from within Influencers, and we can tell you who is reading your messages and how long they were engaged.

Use the new Meltwater Influencers feature to follow up according to your outreach analytics.

Scenario: Outbreak Crisis

You head Chipotle’s PR team. A new outbreak was documented on the West Coast. You need to get in front of the issue before media speculation becomes a toxic stew that freaks out first the investors and then the day traders. Armed with the details of this outbreak—as much as you can publicly disclose—you fire up your media contacts database to look up journalists by a keyword search for your brand. You notice that “Chipotle” brought up three journalists who referenced your brand in the last 30 days.

Use keyword searching in the Meltwater Influencers tool to find journalists who have referenced Chipotle.Identify your journalists using a keyword search. Keywords beat beats.


Segment your contacts with custom mailing lists in Influencers.Segment your media contacts with custom mailing lists.

Note: if you’ve curated your own list of media contacts, import them into the Influencers database and our team of media researchers will keep their contact information updated.

Import your curated contacts and we'll keep their contact information updated.Import your curated contacts and we’ll keep their contact information updated.

You compose a new message from within the Meltwater Influencers database—to take advantage of our engagement analytics—and start typing the name of the mailing list in the Recipients line.

Compose messages from Influencers to take advantage of advanced read statistics.Compose messages from Influencers to take advantage of advanced read statistics.

Type the name of your mailing list and we'll populate the field for you.Type the name of your mailing list and we’ll populate the field for you.

Note: we offer a Send Preview so you know what the message looks like on the receiver’s end. Use your own email as the test recipient.

You remember not to add attachments, because you don’t want your message to get rejected by the writers’ spam filters.
Later that day and for the next couple, you look at your analytics report to see who opened your message. You follow up accordingly and start to build a relationship with the most receptive contacts. And finally, you remember that, throughout a major brand crisis, cultivating and maintaining media relationships is key to turning around brand perception. To see how long it took for Chipotle’s brand perception to bounce back from its outbreak crisis, check out the Chipotle Crisis section of our fast food industry report.


  • Send targeted, personal pitches, avoid a “firehose approach.”
  • Use keyword searching to find your journalists. Pay attention to the time frame to make sure you’re seeing the freshest content. Remember that some journalists cover a recurring event like industry trade shows.
  • Read one of their latest pieces on the topic you searched for. Familiarize yourself with their writing.
  • If you don’t know the best journalist to cover your story, use our handy media pitch guide:
    • TV/Radio: assignment Editor, producers, news directors
    • Print: managing editor, editors in chief, bureau chiefs, assignment editors.
    • This could depend on outlet size, e.g. look for bureau chiefs for the Washington Post.
  • Avoid flagging spam filters.
    • Don’t send attachments. Instead, copy and paste your story into the message body. A PDF might flag a spam filter.
    • If possible, use an email address with a private domain, not one from a free email service provider (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.).
  • Use message analytics to follow up accordingly.

Be sure to check out our latest webinar: Don’t Let Your Brand Be Crisis. We show you how to spot trends and steer the conversation with PR and social media strategies for crafting an effective response.

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